I awoke on a Saturday morning astir, remembering I would be visiting Mukuru, the informal settlement. I was excited to be leaving the premises of the museum. Not knowing what conditions to expect, I put on my uniform: a skirt, a white blouse, and black leather flats. A bus was hired to pick up the coordinators, my fellow students and me, and drop us off at our destination. I walked on air, exhilarated. I mounted the vehicle and stopped. Oh my!!! My jaw dropped in trepidation. Nearly all the students were in track shoes! I became nervous… I definitely wore the wrong outfit today.
After contemplating, I thought of what my mum would say if she was here. Quickly, her positive aura embraced me. I took it all in stride, chatting with the other students with no regard to my uniform (or lack of it).
The minute the bus doors opened, we were confronted by watchful, guarded, but curious eyes. The children tried to catch a glimpse of these strange new arrivals. Dismounting our noble steed, we walked to the Community Hall, rigged up for important meetings or guests, I suppose. The putrid stench of piles of rubbish invaded my lungs the moment we alighted the bus, probably worsened by the scorching sun, but I slowly became accustomed to it.
In the hall, we were told about the main challenges faced in the informal settlement, as well as its history and the achievements people within the settlement had made. Our guide was a social health worker named Scholastica—she had several children, including a son who worked in the area. As we trekked through the settlement, I thought to myself, “not even the word ‘unbelievable’ could be used to describe the mud around us.” By the time I got home that evening, my perfectly polished shoes were covered in muck.
As we continued our day, we began interviewing residents of the informal settlement regarding various issues. Some readily answered our questions; others were defensive, claiming they did not need any help from us. Still others complained that they had been interviewed several times, yet they were never provided with any solutions. I did not ask very many questions, as my Swahili is limited to quite simple structures, but I did listen and understand bits and pieces. Everywhere we went, children followed. The journey concluded with a downpour, reminding me of how under-dressed I was.
After standing under the protection of public toilets until the rain was over, we directed our steps to St. Mary’s Viwandani School to have lunch. The moment I sat on a chair, sanitized my hands, and was beginning to eat my meal out of a transparent plastic container, it began to rain again. What a day this was! Feasting in classrooms until it subsided, I thought about the events of the day. After tending to matters of digestion, we all discussed.
We basically talked about the things that surprised us most. I think the largest agreement we made was that some—perhaps most—of the residents of Mukuru claimed they were alright living the way they were. Nobody can blame them for that, as some inhabitants’ minds have never really been opened to a world outside their own, especially the children. We concluded this brief meeting having already started brainstorming a water purification system, believing dirty water was the foundation of issues such as disease.
Later, I thought about the complaints that several people had made; they were interviewed and yet not provided with any solutions. I intended to change that, however, with everything I could using my skills. Mukuru had to be changed and the inhabitants had to be helped—I was willing to do so. We would be able to offer solutions to their problems through this program.
At long last, I reached home, sweet home, famished and fatigued. I ate, talking with my family about the sightings I had made (but not before I had a thorough shower). I went to bed deep in thought, wondering how we could make changes in the lives of various people, and yet overcome status quo. With this in mind, I drifted off to sleep.